Today, I get to indulge in a couple topics that are important to me: meteorites and Jesuits. There are a few modern points of intersection of the two topics, including Br. Guy Consolmagno, Fr. Cyril Opeil, and myself. For this entry, however, we go back in time a couple of centuries to Fr. Domenico Troili, who lent his name to one of the most common minerals found in meteorites.
Troili was a former pupil of the Fr. Roger Boscovich S.J. at the Roman College. (Boscovich is another religious scientist who will be discussed in a future blog post for his contribution to atomic theory.) He later became the curator of the Este family library in Modena, Italy.
He witnessed the fall of a meteorite over Albareto, Italy in 1766. He took pains to document eyewitness accounts and collect specimens of the Albareto meteorite. This makes him the first person to formally document a meteorite fall, in Ragionamento della Caduta di un Sasso dall’Aria. (Published 1766.)
He recovered approximately 2 kilograms of material. In studying it, he found the presence of an iron sulfide mineral that is virtually unknown in terrestrial rock. (There are certain rocks where it may be found, but they are extremely uncommon.) He originally called it “marchesite.” Early researchers assumed that this mineral was a form of pyrite (FeS2), but later in 1862 Gustav Rose determined that it was FeS. He named it “troilite” in honor of its discoverer.
Though Troili was the first to properly document the fall of a meteorite, at the time it had not been established that meteorites were extraterrestrial in origin. He himself thought the rock originated from a distant volcanic eruption. It would not be until at least the fall of L’Aigle (1803) that the extraterrestrial origin of meteorites was established.
The mineral troilite, though rare on earth, is extremely common in meteorites, and is a popular topic of study in meteorite research. A search for the keyword “troilite” on the NASA ADS server reveals no less than 210 papers, and a search for papers that contain the term reveals almost 9500 titles.
Troili’s other work included orology (timekeeping), attempting to understand the origin of petrified wood, and experiments with electricity.